An Interview with Kiyonori Udagawa

Japan is the holy temple of bespoke shoemaking. I know a lot of people may disagree, however the number of bespoke shoemakers and their meticulous crafts back this conclusion relentlessly.

It is not easy to tell which Japanese shoemaker is the best even though Yohei Fukata definitely has the highest global reputation.

Kiyonori Udagawa is well known as his short name Kiyo Uda, He acctually made many shoes for others as a freelancer and now he focus more on his own brand.

It is a great honor to talk with him.

Could you introduce yourself?

My name is Kiyonori Udagawa.

I was born and raised in Fujisawa city, Kanagawa, seaside area in Japan.

After graduated from high school, I went to a college in the US to study finance and management. 

Since both of my parents were table tennis players, I also started playing when I was a kid, and still enjoy playing table tennis, so I can say it’s my hobby. 

When did you begin loving shoes?

When I was in high school, got a pair of Nike Air Force 1. It really fascinated me.

I think it’s the first time to feel something special on shoes. 

How did you enter this industry and what is the journey?

Back to 2009, I took a shoemaking course at Saruwaka footwear college in Asakusa. It was a 2 years course, and I learned basic skills of shoemaking from last making to finishing.

After that I went to London to look for a job there. Fortunately I got a good response from George Cleverley London so that I started making shoes as an outworker.

After 2 years later, I went back to Japan, but kept working for the company for a while. And then I become a freelance outworker, and also started my own brand.

Which shoemakers are your favorite and why?

My favorite is Anthony Cleverley’s bespoke. It’s simple yet so elegant.

How do you describe your last and design?

In terms of last, I use “twisted” last which is hard to describe though. It helps weight shifting during walking, and also gives more dynamic proportion.

About design, I try to make it simple and elegant. 

What is your signature and most popular model?

I don’t have any house style models but my clients seem to choose brogues on chisel toe last. 

Speaking about business mode, you are free agent on bespoke project, you have your own workshop for MTO models, how do you balance these two?

Recently I have got quite a few orders for my own brand shoes, so I need to spend less time on the other makers work, but there are lots of things that I can learn from the other makers. That’s why I still keep making for them, and try to make as much as possible. 

What is your plan for 2021?

I will start a new project with my friend. It will be fun!

It is a new brand offering fully handmade MTO models. We are still developing the base lasts, and it will be for thinner and narrower foot as Japanese younger generation more likely to have such foot. 

How do you feel the relationship between shoes and the person who wears them?

In my opinion, shoes is a tool to make style. It is not only fashion thing but style, which can express more internal things such as identity, personality, and what you are.

Therefore, it is important to know client’s style before making a pair for them. 

Could you say something to Chinese shoe lovers?

Please visit Japan to see shoemakers in Japan. There are many and each has different styles, so you will find your favorite.

And also please support shoemakers in China too! They’re really talented, and your support will give more experience to young shoemakers!

Price and delivery time

MTO: 230,000 yen including trees and tax, About 8 months to deliver.

Bespoke: 330,000 yen including trees and tax. The waiting time will be less than a year.

Contact:[email protected]